Is Organics for Everyone?

It only seems natural that the State Extension Organic Specialist would say, “of course organics is for everyone!” There is an ever increasing demand for organic food as seen in grocery reports. My wife likes to buy organic produce because it tastes fresher. I think they pick organic produce less mature so its not as tough and also they do a better job packing it! More and more farms are getting into organic production because there is a very valid reason for this – organic PRICES are really good right now! So, Is Organics for Everyone?

I think there are two parts about “organic” we need to tackle. The first part is the “principles” of organics. In principle, organic food is great, overall tasty, healthy, and is for everyone. I encourage you to try organic food and to voluntarily use organic “ways” or “practices” in your landscape, garden and home. But, organic “practice” takes on a whole other meaning when you move into a commercial farm situation. What is commercial?

USDA National Organic Program (NOP) uses $5,000 as a cutoff. If you have less then $5,000 in gross organic sales you are not required to be certified by a USDA approved certifier. This means that you are following all the practices for organic certification but you are not certified or better said you are self-certified. You probably believe in the organic “principles” and so you follow the organic “practices” and you can label and sell your product as “certified organic.”

If you gross more than $5,000 in sales then you must be certified to sell organic. This means following all the practices outlined in the law and more than likely selling to a buyer who is also certified to handle organic products. In Texas most of our certified organic producers are in the dairy, forage crops, cotton, peanut, or rice category and they sell their commodities to organic buyers. These producers may follow the “principles” of organic production (they are a believer) but for sure they follow all organic “practices” by law and they hope to make money, because organic crops sell for more money!

What about the small to medium sized farmers market/local market vegetable/fruit producer? To be honest most of these folks are generally following the “principles” and most if not all of the “practices” but do not pay to be certified organic. They generally enjoy good prices locally, they know their customers and their customers don’t demand certified organic. Knowing the farm and farmer seems to be more important than knowing that they passed an organic inspection. Because they don’t certify they are not organic in “practice” but are certainly organic in “principle.”

I know this first-hand! My wife and I have a farm – Dry Creek Farm, and we sell locally at area farmers markets, restaurants and occasionally grocery stores. I am not certified organic but follow organic principles. Trying to sell direct to consumer means that I really can’t use either an organic or conventional chemical when I may have someone eating it in a few hours. I try to ensure that my customers trust me and the way to gain trust is just do the right thing!

So, IS ORGANICS FOR EVERYONE? Sure, but the real question is, do growers who follow organic “principles” only, need to be certified? In “practice,” only if you can realize an added value from a verified organic certification certificate!

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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